By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor
Back on February 14, I hailed the U.S. Senate’s overwhelming approval of the Natural Resources Management Act (NRMA) as a win for public land. Just 12 days later, I’m happy to report that the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the same version of the NRMA the Senate approved.
The bill passed by a 363-62 margin. It now awaits President Donald Trump’s signature – which I think we can safely say he’ll sign. President Trump is always in need of a political win. Signing overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R, AK) is the kind of win the Trump administration needs.
What I’m most impressed with, however, is the sheer number of disparate factions that came together to make this happen. I’m not privy to what happened in other states, but I know the work done by folks here in Utah, and it may have restored my faith in the American legislative process.
Rep. John Curtis (R, UT) represents one of the most staunchly conservative areas of the country. In meetings with Curtis, he revealed how much behind-the-scenes work he’s performed to get energy developers and county commissioners together in Emery County – a rural area of Utah heavily dependent on the coal industry – to form new land usage agreements.
According to KSL.com, the NRMA establishes more than 600,000 acres in the San Rafael Swell as a national conservation area. This is a huge step forward in properly managing recreation and energy extraction in one of the most remote, rugged, and beautiful places in Utah.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, a longtime left-leaning group seemingly always at odds with Utah’s conservative stage legislature, praised the NRMA.
On the opposite side of the aisle, Rep. Rob Bishop (R, UT) has spent years working on what turned into the NRMA. “This is a good piece of legislation,” Bishop said, as reported by KSL.com.
Bear in mind, this is the same Rep. Bishop who was slammed by Hatch Magazine on multiple occasions for his stance on public lands. Ty Hansen called Bishop the,”Grand Poobah of the Utah federal delegation and a brazen industry mouthpiece who despises anything federal.”
The New York Times had similarly harsh words, with writer Timothy Egan writing that, “Bishop is the villain … a grim-faced ideologue who clearly doesn’t like public land or parks.
The fact that Bishop calls the NRMA a good piece of legislation and Trout Unlimited CEO Chris Wood is quoted by KSL.com as saying, “This bill is a tribute to the power of collaborative stewardship where communities of place and interest come together to protect and preserve the places they live and the rivers they love to fish” is nothing short of miraculous.
Seriously, who could have ever predicted this? Even in the age of Trump, this bipartisanship came so far out of left field it may as well have come from a different galaxy.
Oh, and the NRMA addresses one of the long-standing complaints Utah’s congressional delegation has levied against federal land management practices – that they’re too overbearing and ignore the needs and input of locals. Senator Mike Lee (R, UT) cited that as the reason he couldn’t vote for the NRMA.
Well, someone in D.C. listened, because KSL.com reports that federally controlled public land in Utah actually decreases by 6,302 acres.
While we’re waiting on the largest unknown political quantity in American history to sign this legislation, I think we all need to sit back and celebrate what’s been accomplished here. Republicans, Democrats, oil and gas lobbyists, conservation groups, and regular citizens alike contributed to the success of the NRMA. If signed by Trump, it assures the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) exists in perpetuity. It also expands how money from the Pittman-Robertson fund can be used; namely, using those funds to build more public shooting ranges, since recreational shooters pay more into that fund than any other group in America.
While we wait for Trump to sign the NRMA, I’d like to personally thank Lisa Murkowski for sponsoring this bill. John Curtis for his work in bringing disparate factions in Utah together to add their two cents to this bill. Mitt Romney for being the lone senator from Utah to vote for it, and Rob Bishop for laying the initial groundwork for parts of the NRMA years ago. And I can’t say how happy I am that the leaders of Trout Unlimited and SUWA were willing to come to the table and make a compromise.
Ladies and gentlemen, you did well. And the sporting public of America thanks you.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine, Trout Magazine, Hatch Magazine, Sporting Classics Daily, and other national publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.